Coleridge's Discursive "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" [Notice]

  • Paul Magnuson

…plus d’informations

  • Paul Magnuson
    New York University

Prompted, in part, by a wide-spread skepticism with maps of totalizing history, literary historians now focus on particular material conditions of production, publication, and authorship. They have turned their attention from schools and families of writers traced in a genealogical descent in the long sweep of literary history to local knowledge and particular circumstances for several reasons. Particulars seem less vulnerable to skeptical inquiry than general accounts of historical movements and can stand as the ground for a materialist criticism. The significance of a literary work appears stabilized by being fixed to historical facts, the moment of creation, the means of production, and organs of reception. For some critics, a materialist criticism of particulars thus aims to install history and society at a work's origin and to anchor it in such a way that its boundaries are not violated and its figuration is not dispersed among the codes of language. The focus on historical specificity is evident in a number of critical methods. Jerome McGann has outlined the topics for a historical criticism: the "originary textual moment" of authorship and collaborative authorship; the "secondary moments of textual production and reproduction," the reprinting of works; and "the immediate moment of textual criticism," its reception by reviewers whose tendentious purposes enter into the account. Jack Stillinger, along with other editors of Romantic literature, has called for a theory of versions of a work. Since many authors revised their works in republication, a poem may exist in many versions. No one version, Stillinger argues, can be preferred over another, not a first nor a final version supervised in the author's lifetime: "I suggest ... that we drop the concept of an ideal single text fulfilling an author's intentions and put our money instead on some theory of versions." More recently, James Chandler has argued that the turn to history in literary studies is a return to "dated specificity." He describes literature "concerned with its place in England in 1819—concerned, that is, with a national operation of self-dating, or -redating, that is meant to count as a national self-making, or -remaking." I have recently offered another approach to historical and textual specificity by practicing a criticism that reads a version of a work in the paratextual frame of its original publication, which links the Romantic lyric to public debates and the discourse of politics, morality, law, and aesthetics. Historical specificity, however, raises a number of problems. Locating a work in relation to its printing, its versions, its date, or its paratext determines its significance, and that determination severely limits significance, since a work is reprinted with different contexts, dates, and paratexts. Poems are republished and therefore repeated in different locations; dated contexts are not repeatable. Poems are iterable; dates are not. Strict historical specificity limits a work's significance in practical criticism, so that one date or version provides one meaning. As Kelvin Everest argued at the 1998 Coleridge Conference, "Some texts plainly also live both independently of this context, as it might be in the modern classroom, study, beach, fireside, or aeroplane." We must acknowledge that a work worth rereading is always in excess of its historical moment. To practice a critical method that relies exclusively on an originary moment, version, date, or paratext is to entomb a work in a paratextual memorial. Some editors of poetry place two dates after each poem. On the left, the date of composition, or birth; on the right, the date of publication, or death. The most important dates for poems, as for people, then become those on a tombstone. Locating a work within its originating context …

Parties annexes